It didn’t come easy — nothing in the NCAA postseason, it seems, ever does for the University of Minnesota Duluth — but in the end the Bulldogs found a way to get it done.
UMD scored two goals three minutes apart midway through the first period and then held on for a gritty 2-1 victory over Air Force in the NCAA West Regional title game Saturday night in Sioux Falls, S.D. That earned the Bulldogs (23-16-3 overall), who have now played in nine straight one-game NCAA playoff games, a second straight trip to the NCAA Frozen Four, which opens April 5 in St. Paul, Minn.
“This means a lot to the program,” said Scott Sandelin, who was coaching in his UMD-record 723rd game and now owns the second best career NCAA playoff winning percentage (.714 off 15-6 record) of any active head coach. “I’m more happy for our players, and I always am. We talk aboout the process and how hard it is. They needed to get here and see how hard it is to win two games and get to the Frozen Four.”
The Bulldogs, who were coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over Minnesota State University-Mankato in Friday night’s semifinals, dominated the first period in its first meeting with the Falcons since Jan. 2, 1999. Sophomore right winger Joey Anderson backhanded a rebound 9:03 into game and sophomore defenseman Nick Wolff then doubled the UMD lead at the 12:12 mark with a heavy wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that beat Air Force goaltender Billy Christopoulus glove side. The Bulldogs wound up outshooting Air Force 14-0 and held a 24-4 advantage in total shot attempts.
The Bulldogs remained up 2-0 until 6:16 to go in regulation when Evan Geisler banked in a shot from below the extended goal line while the Falcons were on the power play. Air Force (23-15-5 overall), which had defeated the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seed St. Cloud State University 4-1 the previous day, pulled its goaltender with 1:42 left in the third period, but sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard held strong while closing out his 37th consecutive start. UMD allowed just 12 shots on goal the entire night (which tied a program record set against Army back on Nov. 12,1996) and generated 26 of its own.
“We had a great start to the game, obviously our first period was good, things tightened up after that, but we held on and it was kind of the game we expected moving forward. I’m really proud of our guys coming out early and getting that lead,” said Sandelin.
Senior left winger Karson Kuhlman was named the West Regionals Most Valuable Player and was joined on the six-player All-Tournament Team by Wolff, junior right winger Parker Mackay and freshman defender Dylan Samberg.
UMD, the defending NCAA West Regional champions, has now qualified for six Frozen Fours — 1984, 1985, 2004, 2011 (when it captured its lone national title to date in St. Paul) and 2017.
Source: UMD Athletics